Holiday Tragedies

The last days of December are filled with joy and cheer for most of us but for some, they are the Holiday Tragedies. Celebrating several days together with loved ones isn’t an option for everyone. Some of us are alone and not always by choice. Some of us were robbed of loved ones.

It stings particularly during that time of the year when all you see around you are smiling faces of people surrounded by their loved ones. It hurts when all you hear in stores is the high pitch screech “all I want for Christmas is you.” And most importantly, the complexity of your story, the multiple layers of emotions, and the duality of your temper are not always understood by those around you.

My Holiday Tragedies involve many beloved family members I lost over the years. My grandparents, my Godfather, my mother-in-law, and my father. I feel robbed even though I didn’t lose them to crime. There were medical explanations. Despite that, I feel angry and sad. But no matter what my problems are they pale in comparison to what others go through during the Holidays.

Every holiday marks the death of a victim who has posts here on my blog. I searched for those who we lost around the Holidays. They are mentioned here by date but not by year. I just wanted to show you who we lost.

Barbara Ann Blatnik

Barbara Ann Blatnik

Barbara Ann Blatnik

On December 20, 1987, the nude body of Barbara Ann Blatnik (1971-1987) was found about 30 miles from her home in Garfield Heights (Ohio). She was just seventeen years old. Barbara was raped and strangled to death. Her case is part of a string of unsolved murders in Summit County, Ohio.

Barbara was last seen around 4pm. She left with friends to attend a party. She did call home from the party around 1030pm to say that she would be home soon. The party was close to her parental home which was part of the reason she had her parents’ permission to go. She never came back to them.

Police have no suspects in Barbara’s case. If you have any information that can help police solve Barbara Blatnik’s murder, please contact the Cuyahoga Falls Detective Bureau at 330-971-8334.

Michelle Martinko, courtesy Robert J. Riley

Michelle Martinko, courtesy Robert J. Riley

Michelle Marie Martinko

On the same day they we lost Barbara, we lost Michelle Marie Martinko. Michelle was found dead at 4am on Dec. 20, 1979. She was repeatedly stabbed most notably in her face and chest. Police discovered her body in the family Buick in the parking lot of the Westdale Mall in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Police said there was no sign of a sexual assault but she had wounds that indicated she fought with her attacker.

In October 2006, police announced they had the suspect’s DNA. However, no match was found in the national database known as Combined DNA Index System (CODIS). In May 2017, Cedar Rapids Police Department released a suspect composite sketch based on that DNA. They used phenotyping to create the image. Despite that advancement, Michelle’s case remains unsolved.

If you have any information, please contact Det. Doug Larison at (319) 286-5412.

Brenda Martinez with her daughter Stephanie

Brenda Martinez with her daughter Stephanie

Brenda Lee Harvey Martinez

Just two days later, a young mother disappears. Brenda Lee Harvey Martinez (23) disappeared on Dec. 22, 1988, in Flint, Michigan. She had just lost her mother and the family was grieving. According to the papers, Brenda said that she was going to use a pay phone at Fenton and West Atherton roads, Flint. She put on her coat and went outside. She never returned.

Her snow-covered, frozen body was found near Tobaggan Hill in Holloway Reservoir Regional Park on Jan. 5, 1989. The authorities still refuse to reveal the cause of death (crucial to the investigation) but have labelled her case a homicide. However, nobody has ever been charged for her murder. The case remains unsolved.

Her daughter Stephanie was six at the time her mother was killed. She wrote on my blog what it feels like to lose your mom at such a young age.

I guess like every little kid that has ever loved their mother, she was my everything. She was who I wanted to be when I grew up, and she was the warmth I wanted to fall asleep next to at night. I remember most when that was gone how alien the world became, how scary life was after that.”

If anyone has information please call the Richfield Township Police Department at 1-810-653-3565.

Rhonda Annette Hinson

Rhonda Annette Hinson

Rhonda Annette Hinson

The next day, in North Carolina, Rhonda Annette Hinson was taken from us. On Dec. 23, 1981, Rhonda (19) died from a single gunshot that came from a high-powered rifle. The bullet traveled through the trunk of her car, through the backseat, through the driver’s seat, and penetrated her lungs and heart.

Authorities found Rhonda Hinson lying in a ditch beside the open driver’s door. The motor was running. Authorities saved Hinson’s sweater and found touch DNA in the armpits that did not belong to Hinson. National DNA databases have not found a match. There is a simple explanation for that: the profile belongs to someone who has not committed a crime. It belongs to the person who found Rhonda and tried to help her.

Maybe, if the authorities made it clear that finding a profile match isn’t the same as proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the profile carrier committed a crime, someone would speak up. I can imagine that the person who tried to help Rhonda is terrified of being arrested. If this person was assured, they might tell us everything they saw and heard that night. They just might hold that one small detail we need to solve Rhonda’s case. Nobody was ever charged in this case.

If you have any information about the Rhonda Hinson case, please contact Lt. Becky Weatherman of the Burke County Sheriff’s Office at (828) 438-5506, or Crimestoppers at (828) 437-3333. You can email the Sheriff’s Office too: [email protected]

Reward Poster Sodder ChildrenThe Sodder Children

The next day on Christmas Eve several tragedies happened. The Sodder Children from Fayetteville in West Virginia went missing on Dec 24, 1945 after a fire destroyed their family’s house. Missing are Maurice (14), Martha (12), Louis (9), Jennie (8), and Betty (5). These children may not have died in the fire that consumed their home.

Question is whether the fire was accidental or arson, whether the five children were already missing before the fire was discovered, and how they could have exited the house unseen. I do not think that these five children died in the fire. I believe they exited the house on their own.

Alternative scenarios: incapacitating them one by one is not practical. The other four siblings would have noticed something. Poisoning the entire family through food or water is not realistic either. The parents would be on high alert. I think that whoever was behind this knew that. This was carefully orchestrated.

Someone made contact with the children who disappeared. They were probably promised something if they came outside on Christmas Eve to get something, see something, or eat something special. And then somehow they were taken away. Why? I don’t know. I just know that a family that size (two parents with 10 children) has more angles and enemies than discussed in most articles and forums.

If you have any information that can help solve this case please contact the Fayetteville Police in West Virginia at 1(304)-574-0255.

the Zeigler wedding

the Zeigler wedding

The Zeigler Family

Our pain on the 24th isn’t over. In Wintergarden, Florida, the Zeigler Family was gunned down in their own furniture store.

On Christmas Eve, Dec 24th 1975, Virginia and Perry Edwards and their daughter Eunice Edwards-Zeigler were murdered. Another man, Charles Mays, was killed as well. The fifth victim, William Thomas Zeigler, became the sole suspect because he survived the massacre.

This case is one of the first I worked on when I started working for the Swiss Section of Amnesty International. It always felt as if this case was never seen for what it was due to its complexity and to corruption.

It is riddled by proven police misconduct (lying on the stand is on record), prosecutorial misconduct (withheld evidence is a violation of the rules of discovery), and forensic testing so far has disproved the charges.

This case has its own category on my blog. If you click here you can find over 60 posts. For those who do not know the case, start with the Jellison Tape. The Jellison Tape was suppressed by the state for about twelve years. Why? Because of what Jon Jellison saw and the implications of his observations.

Jon Jellison said that after approx 8pm “there was a policeman out in the parking lot aiming his pistol over the hood of his police car at the back of the building.” Jon, a teenager at the time, was interviewed on the phone by Mr. Bachman, investigator for the prosecution. And Mr. Bachman tried very hard to make Jon say something else. Click here for that story.

Even when Mr. Bachman suggested a change in the chain of events, Jon remained steadfast in what he remembered and in what order. He first saw the police car and the officer in the parking lot. That alerted him to the fact that something was going on. That’s why he stayed outside to watch. And then, he heard shots. This teenager’s attention was grabbed by the sequence in which events unfolded. First the car, then the shots. 

Interviewing a teen without parents or a guardian present is against the law and Mr. Bachman knew that. So did the prosecution. They tried to make a teen say something else. They even promised a free vacation is only he would say something else. This is sheer criminal activity o the part of the prosecution.

Technically this case is not unsolved as we have someone on death row who was convicted for these murders. But we do not have the right person. We have the fifth victim. He was the sole target and now he is on death row for something he didn’t do.

If we take William Thomas Zeigler (the fifth victim) out of the equation we are not left with a cold case. Normally, we look at what we have left once someone is exonerated:

  • previously disregarded evidence (because we thought we already had our conviction) or,
  • properly preserved old evidence that may contain biological material that can now be tested with modern technology or,
  • a confession from someone new or another person’s DNA match (as a result of testing with modern technology such as familail DNA)

In Zeigler’s case we have all three points and more. What we do not have is an independent judge with the guts to review the case from scratch. Only if you are unattached can you see the true timeline in this case. But you need to be free from corruption, not be affiliated to the prosecution, and not owe anyone anything. Only then are you able to view this case for what it is: William Thomas Zeigler was the intended target and his defense team can even tell you who orchestrated this crime and why. We just need someone to listen.

leaning angelCharles R. Clark

On Christmas Eve in 1959, Charles R. Clark was murdered. Charles (35) was in the kitchen preparing Christmas dinner when someone shot him through the window. He was married with four children and active in the Boy Scouts Club.

The motive for this crime was unclear until police discovered that Charles’ wife, Lois, had several affairs. One of the men was Floyd E. Gene” Hargrove. As Hargrove was a sharpshooter in the Army Air Force during World War II police zoomed in on him. He was charged with murder but acquitted in 1960. No further arrests were ever made in this case.

Should you have a picture of Charles Clark please contact me. I would love to have his own image here instead of one of my generic angel pictures.

If you have any information in this case please contact the Cuyahoga County Sheriff’s Department’s Detective Bureau at 216-443-6130.

UPDATE: I have received more information about this case so I will update Charles Clark’s case soon in a separate post.

Betty Gene Hull

Betty Gene Hull

Betty Gene Hull

Before Christmas Eve is over we need to remember Betty Gene Hull. On Christmas Eve, 1991, Mrs. Hull (68) was found murdered. Whoever is responsible for her death was in a rage and the attack was personal. She had trauma to her head, mouth, and hands, and a bullet hole in her chest. The autopsy revealed that Mrs. Hull had multiple stab wounds in her chest too. The stabbing was so forceful, that her lungs were penetrated. Four ribs were broken on the left side of her chest, and five on the right side.

Mrs. Hull was a very generous woman who helped neighbours and friends when they needed something even though she lived on a budget. She loaned people money, let them use her phone, and gave away food. Most people in Mrs. Hull’s street agreed that many took advantage of her generosity.

In 2010, some pieces of evidence from this case were considered for testing in a state lab. I have not read anything about results. If you have information, please contact the Champaign Police Department at 217-315-4545.


These are just a few cases that happened during the Holidays. If you do  quick online search you will find many more. You can see why this period is emotionally charged. Be kind to each other and please understand that there are many reasons why people dread this time of year.

As this is most likely the last post for 2017, I wish to thank you for reading my blog and for sharing my posts online. You all help in giving the victims a better digital footprint. Being found online is crucial as the internet is the premier source for information. Thank you all for helping.

Special thanks and gratitude as always to Jacques Soudan who built (and hosts) this blog. He has been with me from the start in November 2009. I could not have done this without you.

I wish you all Happy Holidays and the very best for the New Year. Make it magical!